Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s sudden disappearance from the long march, soon after the sunset and party’s Secretary General Asad Umar announcing that he has gone to Lahore to attend a “very important meeting”, left the media and the participants speculating.
Earlier, the march had begun its second, but brief, leg from Shahdara with Mr Khan continuing to hit out at two spy agency officers he has been referring to as “Dirty Harry”, called them “savage” and demanded the army chief investigate them.
PTI leaders Fawad Chaudhry and Punjab President Dr Yasmin Rashid denied the party chief had left for any meeting and insisted it was a pre-decided SOP that the march would not move in the dark owing to “security reasons”.
Amid rising speculation about talks under way between the PTI chief and the powers that be after his sudden departure from the procession, Imran Khan himself came on record to ‘rubbish’ the rumours.
In only so many words, he tweeted: “For all those spreading rumours about my meeting in Lahore, the reason we returned was because Lahore was closer and we had already decided not to move at night. The only demand I have had for six months is date for early fair and free elections. That will be the ONLY demand if talks are to be held”.
Earlier, speaking to Bol News, Fawad Chaudhry claimed their movement was slow because “thousands of people” were walking alongside Imran Khan’s container.
“No PTI leader is holding any talks with the government as this task has been entrusted to President Arif Alvi. We will accept the consensus or solution Dr Alvi finds out,” he commented.
Answering a question, he said dialogue would only be held with kings and not pawns. “Dialogue will happen only when the coalition government accepts the announcement of snap polls,” he maintained.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Parvez Elahi also said Imran Khan would not hold talks with any government committee, and claimed negotiations on the next elections were under way with the ruling coalition.
Speaking to Dunya News anchors Ajmal Jami and Mujeebur Rahman Shami, the chief minister said Mr Khan’s biggest issue was elections, adding the long march had provided a ray of hope in that regard.
“Everyone, including the ruling coalition, the prime minister, Imran Khan and I want an extension for Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and the former had said it would be better if the army chief is given an extension,” Elahi claimed.
Later in the evening, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb also reacted to Asad Umar’s announcement and said no “dialogue” was being held with the “rejected foreign-funded fitna”, but only “Mazaq Raat” – in reference to a comedy show on TV.
She said Mr Khan ‘fled’ when people started returning from the “long drive”.
Earlier, the march that began much behind schedule could only last for less than four hours and abruptly concluded at Ferozewala instead of the planned destination of Kamoke.
Sending a message to the establishment, Imran Khan asserted it wasn’t possible that once they helped label Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari as thieves and later imposed them on the hapless masses.
Recalling the FIA’s torture on Senator Azam Swati and handing him over to “unidentified persons” who were later identified as ISI DG-C Maj Gen Faisal Naseer and Islamabad Sector Commander Brig Faheem Raza for “inhumane torture”, Mr Khan asked the army chief to remove the officers and investigate them.
He also asked the army high-ups if they really didn’t know who was hurling threats at slain journalist Arshad Sharif, and suggested they ask his mother who would name them.
In an interview to BBC Urdu, Mr Khan yet again dubbed the ISI and ISPR directors general’s (DG) press conference “foolish”, saying the two only spoke “lies and half-truths”.
When asked if he had offered the army chief an indefinite extension, Mr Khan claimed he was quoted out of context. “Things have been taken out of context that we made an offer for an extension. Did they say which side made the offer? In what context the discussion took place? If they tell the whole story, it will be very embarrassing for them,” he maintained.
The former premier said he could respond to the DGs’ presser point by point, but it would be “very embarrassing” for the army.
The former premier also claimed he didn’t want to come to power with the establishment’s approval, and insisted his party’s win in 2018 was not engineered by the military.
A PTI leader told Dawn that Mr Khan now wanted the march to move only during the day so the world could see the large crowd.
“Today’s march is ending immediately. It will resume from Muridke at 11 am on Sunday (today),” Fawad Chaudhry tweeted on Saturday evening.